Leonard Bernstein: What Does Music Mean?

On January 18, 1958 Leonard Bernstein began presenting his television series What does music mean?  The series ran for 53 programs.  Some of the episodes can be found below:

Part 1 What is Classical Music?

Plot: Bernstein conducts Handel’s Water Music and cites it as an indisputable example of classical music. “Exact” is the word that best defines classical music, Bernstein says and he demonstrates with musical illustrations from Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C Major and The Marriage of Figaro, and Haydn’s Symphony No. 102.

The decline of classical music at the end of the eighteenth century is tied to Beethoven’s innovations and the Romantic movement, and Bernstein conducts Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.


Part 2 What is Melody?

Plot: Bernstein discusses the different forms melody can take, including tune, theme, motive, melodic line and musical phrase. He illustrates by conducting the orchestra in excerpts from Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Hindemith, and Brahms.


Part 3 What is a Mode?

Plot: Bernstein discusses scales, intervals, and tones, and analyzes several pieces, including Debussy’s Fêtes, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and music from the Kinks and the Beatles, to illustrate different modes.

An excerpt from Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free is also performed.

 

Piano Pedaling

piano-pedal-diagram

These are some examples of pedal marks in piano music:

piano-pedal-music

An older style of pedalling. The symbols can be between or below the staves.

 

piano-pedal-music2

This type of pedalling is more commonly used today.

 

piano-pedal-music3

Another type of pedalling

Pedals on a grand piano:

piano-pedal

There are two standard foot pedals on the piano: on the left side is the una corda pedal and on the right side is the sustain (damper) pedal.

The middle sostenuto pedal is only standard on the American grand piano, and is very rarely used.

With pedals, the pianist can add resonance and color to the music and thereby bring out its inherent emotion. At the same time, over-pedaling or improper pedaling can drown the listener and the performer in a miasma of overlapping sounds.

Anton Rubinstein, renowned pianist of the late nineteenth century, said that the rightmost pedal is the very soul of the instrument.  His book, The Art of Piano Pedaling: Two Classic Guides, is still in print.

This pedal has various names. It is sometimes called the damper pedal (because it lifts all the dampers inside the piano), or the forte pedal (because the result of lifting all the dampers is a fuller sound), or the tre corde pedal (because it allows the three strings of each key to vibrate), or the sustaining pedal (because when you depress it the note will continue to sound even if you take your fingers off the keys).

Damper Pedaling Guidelines

Here are some guidelines pedaling. As with everything in art, they can be ignored under certain circumstances.

  1. Avoid pedaling notes that move in a stepwise or scalar pattern. Adjacent notes are dissonant, and when pedaled, they sound smudged.
  2. Do pedal notes that skip and form a nice harmony.
  3. Change your pedal (i.e., lift it up and put it down again) at each change of harmony.
  4. Avoid pedaling through rests (i.e., silence), at ends of phrases (at which point we would need to breathe and that split second of silence takes care of that), or staccato notes—although this is commonly ignored, because we actually can hear the disconnection through the pedal. This is why we do not depend on the pedal to achieve a beautiful legato.
  5. Keep your heel planted firmly on the floor, and pedal with either toes or the ball of foot, depending on your shoe size.

There are several manipulations possible with the damper pedal, each affecting the sound slightly differently.

Syncopated Pedaling

For the cleanest sound, the syncopated (or legato) pedal will give you the most control.  This is an action where the foot is put down immediately after the note is played. This may take some getting used to, but you can practice it by playing a C scale.

  1. Play C, and then lower the damper pedal.
  2. Hold the pedal down until you are just about ready to play the D.
  3. As the D’s finger goes down, the foot goes up, and then down again immediately after the D is struck.

The sound is clean. Continue up the scale the same way.

As an experiment, try putting the pedal down as you play a note, and notice the difference in the sound. Since the damper pedal lifts all the dampers, when you strike the D, not only are the three strings of that note free to vibrate but so do all the other strings vibrate sympathetically. You have a sound that is full of overtones.

There are times when you will want that effect and so will keep your foot down until the accumulated sound needs to breathe.

You can practice the syncopated pedal away from the piano by sitting on the bench or a chair and lifting your right knee at exactly the same time as your right hand goes down to tap the rising knee. This is the same action at the keyboard. The foot goes up when the hand goes down and then returns to the pedal.

Partial Pedals

There are half and quarter pedals too, which are used when you don’t want full vibrato. Rather than depressing the pedal all the way down, you lower your foot halfway so that the dampers are lifted only slightly off the strings, without allowing them to vibrate fully.

The quarter pedal gives even just a hint of pedal. It will take a while to feel these various distances on your piano. Also, you will find that each piano has its own pedal feel, which you must get used to before attempting to perform on that instrument.

Flutter Pedal

Then there are times, usually in scale passages, where touches of pedal can be very appealing and then the foot goes up and down rapidly and shallowly, and that is called the “flutter” pedal.

Choosing the Pedaling

The different types of damper pedaling techniques are for you, the pianist, to decide. But what determines which choice you will make?

Two things will control that: your very important ear, and your understanding of the music—the composer and the era in which the music was composed.

Your pedaling approach following the composer’s style depends on your knowledge of what instruments were available during the composer’s lifetime and how the pedal or lack of pedals would have made the music sound. This way, your interpretation will have authenticity.


Position of the Sustain Pedal:

Right pedal

The Sustain Pedal is Played With:

Right foot

Also Called:

Damper pedal, forte pedal, loud pedal

Effects of the Sustain Pedal:

The sustain pedal allows all of the notes on the piano to resonate after the keys have been lifted, for as long as the pedal is depressed. It creates a legato effect, forcing all of the notes to echo and overlap.

History of the Sustain Pedal:

The sustain pedal was originally operated by hand, and an assistant was required to operate it until the knee lever was created. The creators of the sustain foot pedal are unknown, but it is believed to have been invented around the mid-1700s.

Use of the sustain was uncommon until the Romantic Period, but is now the most commonly used piano pedal.

How the Sustain Pedal Works:

The sustain pedal lifts the dampers off of the strings, allowing them to vibrate until the pedal is released.

Sustain Pedal Marks:

In piano notation, use of the sustain pedal begins with Ped., and ends with a large asterisk.

Variable pedal marks, seen as __/\_/\__, are placed under notes, and define the precise pattern in which the sustain pedal is depressed and released.

    • Horizontal lines show when the sustain pedal is depressed.
  • Diagonal lines indicate a quick, temporary release of the sustain pedal.

 


Position of the Una Corda Pedal:

Left pedal

The Una Corda is Played With:

Left foot

Also Called:

Soft pedal, “piano” pedal

Effects of the Una Corda Pedal:

The una corda pedal is used to enhance the timbre of softly played notes, and exaggerate a low volume. The soft pedal should be used with notes that are already played softly, and will not produce the desired effect on louder notes.

History of the Una Corda Pedal:

The una corda was the first mechanism to modify the piano’s sound, and was originally operated by hand. It was invented in 1722 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, and quickly became a standard addition to the piano.

How the Una Corda Pedal Works:

Most treble keys are attached to two or three strings. The una corda shifts the strings so that the hammers only strike one or two of them, creating a softened sound.

Some bass keys are only attached to one string. In this case, the pedal creates a shift so that the hammer strikes on a lesser-used portion of the string.

Una Corda Pedal Marks:

In piano notation, use of the soft pedal begins with the words una corda (meaning “one string”), and is released by the words tre corde (meaning “three strings”).

Interesting Facts About the Una Corda Pedal:

  • Most upright pianos use a “piano” pedal instead of a true una corda pedal. The piano pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings, preventing them from striking with full force

 


Position of the Sostenuto Pedal:

Usually the middle pedal, but is often omitted.

The Sostenuto is Played With:

Right foot

Originally Called:

Tone-sustaining pedal

Effects of the Sostenuto Pedal:

The sostenuto pedal allows certain notes to be sustained while other notes on the keyboard are unaffected. It is used by hitting the desired notes, then depressing the pedal. The selected notes will resonate until the pedal is released. This way, sustained notes can be heard alongside notes played with a staccato effect.

History of the Sostenuto Pedal:

The sostenuto pedal was the last addition to the modern piano. Boisselot & Sons first showcased it in 1844, but the pedal didn’t gain popularity until Steinway patented it in 1874. Today, it’s primarily found on American grand pianos, but is not considered a standard addition since it is very rarely used.

How the Sostenuto Pedal Works:

When the sostenuto pedal is depressed, it keeps the dampers off the selected strings, allowing them to resonate while the rest of the keys’ dampers remain down.

Sostenuto Pedal Marks:

In piano music, use of the sostenuto pedal begins with Sost. Ped., and ends with a large asterisk. Notes meant to be sustained are sometimes marked by hollow, diamond-shaped notes, but there are no strict rules for this pedal since it is hardly ever used.

Interesting Facts About the Sostenuto Pedal:

    • Sostenuto is Italian for “sustaining,” although this incorrectly describes the pedal’s function.
    • On some pianos, the sostenuto pedal only affects the bass notes.
    • The middle pedal is sometimes built as a “practice rail” pedal instead of a sostenuto. A practice rail muffles notes with felt dampers, allowing for quiet play.
  • Sostenuto pedal markings are rarely seen in sheet music, but can be found in the works of Claude Debussy.

 

Piano Puzzlers!

puzzlers

 

The Piano Puzzlers book is available in the O’Connor Music Studio library if you’d like to give any a try.  Piano Puzzlers as heard on American Public Media’s “Performance Today.” Includes 32 tunes with songs by Gershwin, Berlin, Arlen, Porter, Rodgers, Fats Waller, Lennon & McCartney, and others disguised in the styles of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Janacek, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, and Copland.

Includes an introduction by Fred Child, host of “Performance Today” as well as background info by Bruce Adolphe. “Bruce Adolphe has taken a common musician’s party game and elevated it to high art and truly funny musical slapsticks. The Piano Puzzlers are a unique combination of extraordinary insight into the styles of many composers subtle, expert workmanship and great, great fun!”

From http://jasonmorris.blogsome.com/2008/08/08/piano-puzzlers/

If you’re a music geek (like me), I have a program for you. Now, let me be clear, to fully qualify as a music geek…you must have a fond appreciation for classical music (no, Poison, Quiet Riot, and Zepplin do not count as classical music). So, if you’re a “music geek” without an appreciation for classical music…well, I hate to burst your bubble…but, you’re not truly a music geek. Instead, you’re a music appreciator, but not a geek. So, if you just listen to indie music and scowl at anything on a label larger than Matador…don’t bother following the link I’ll provide…the fun will be lost on you…And, you probably won’t have a chance.

Every Wednesday night, on my way home from WNL, I turn on my local NPR station to listen to Piano Puzzlers on Performance Today. It’s absolutely incredible. A pianist/composer (Bruce Adolphe) takes a familiar folk or pop tune and sets it inside a classical masterpiece (or in the style of a particular composer). Sometimes it’s easy…sometimes it’s ridiculously difficult. There are days when I say, “got it” on the first pass. Then there are days when I say, “what the heck?” And, more often than not, I’m able to get either the popular/folk tune or the composer.

This is sad to admit, but there are nights when I’ll slow down on the drive home or sit in the car in the driveway to finish an episode. In fact, I get a little worked up if someone stops me after WNL…as I might miss the beginning of Piano Puzzlers (it usually hits around 8:20pm on our local station).

Take a listen to some of the archives and see if you can figure it out! It’s really cool…but probably only appreciated by music geeks (the kind of people that listen to NPR for their musical programs and not just the snipets of cool indie rock between segments on All Things Considered…which is a great show too).

Play Piano Puzzlers HERE!

August 22 ~ This Day in Music History

today

OCMS   1862 ~ Claude Debussy, French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though he himself disliked the term when applied to his compositions.
More information about Debussy

• 1906 ~ The Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey began to manufacture the Victrola (record player). The hand-cranked unit, with horn cabinet, sold for $200. Records sold separately.

• 1917 ~ John Lee Hooker, American blues guitarist and singer, born in Clarksdale, Miss. He began his career in Detroit in 1948 with the release of Boogie Chillun, the biggest of his several hit records and a staple of both the blues and rock repertoires. He toured continually, and among “deep blues” artists, enjoyed an unusually successful career, appearing in concerts and on recordings with many of the leading figures in rock. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

OCMS  1928 ~ Karlheinz Stockhausen, German composer
More information about Stockhausen
Read quotes by and about Stockhausen

• 1926 ~ Bob Flanigan, Singer with The Four Freshmen

• 1932 ~ The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began its first experimental TV broadcast in England.

• 1938 ~ Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared, dancing, on the cover of LIFE magazine, published on this day.

• 1938 ~ Count Basie recorded the classic swing tune, Jumpin’ at the Woodside, for Decca Records.

• 1942 ~ Joe Chambers, Musician: guitar, singer with The Chambers Brothers

• 1950 ~ Sam Neely, Singer

• 1960 ~ Debbi Peterson, Drummer, singer with Bangles

• 1961 ~ Roland Orzabal, Singer, guitarist

• 2002 ~ Frederick Selch, an advertising executive and magazine publisher who collected hundreds of antique musical instruments, died at the age of 72.
Selch began collecting almost 50 years ago and owned more than 300 musical instruments by 1977.
In that year, he founded the Federal Music Society, an organization dedicated to performing music from the Colonial-Federal period. The group’s 26 players used instruments in Selch’s collection to perform in more than 70 concerts.
Selch was also the owner, editor and publisher of Ovation, a monthly magazine about classical music, from 1983 to 1989. He produced the Broadway musical “Play Me a  Country Song” in 1982, and in the past 10 years was involved in a series of American  Music Festivals at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Selch, who received a master’s degree in radio-television production from Syracuse University, worked at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency from 1955 to 1974.
He is to be awarded a posthumous doctorate from the American Studies program at New York University.

• 2002 ~ Richard Lippold, a sculptor whose abstract works are featured at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall and at Harvard University, died. He was 87. Lippold created giant metal abstractions, many of which are suspended by wires so  they appear to be hovering or moving through space.
His piece World Tree, a 27-foot structure of straight and circular metal tubes that resembles a radio antenna, stands on the Harvard University campus.
He is also known for Ad Astra, a double spire that rises 115 feet in front of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and Orpheous and Apollo, a constellation of bronze bars connected by wires in the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.
Lippold studied industrial design, piano and dance at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago. He worked as a freelance industrial designer for several years before teaching art at the University of Michigan.
He later taught at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., and Hunter College in New York.

How Big are *Your* Hands?

pianist-hands

Redditor NeokratosRed  had an idea: depict the hands of great composers and pianists, according to the characteristics of their music. He shared it on the social media site, and also punted for suggestions of more. It has since received over 300,000 images views, and lots of further suggestions from fellow Redditors and piano geeks.

Whisks for Chopin’s elegant pianistic souffles, feather dusters for the gentle impressionism of Debussy, instruments of trade for the composer of the thunderous Hammerklavier sonata.

Piano, and the internet – top marks to the both of you.

via This infographic of composers’ hands is painfully (and hilariously) accurate | Classic FM.

March 25 ~ This Day in Music History

today

. 1699 ~ Johann Adolph Hasse, German composer, singer and teacher of music. Immensely popular in his time, Hasse was best known for his prolific operatic output, though he also composed a considerable quantity of sacred music.

. 1784 ~ François-Joseph Fetis, Belgian musicologist, composer, teacher, and influential music critic.

. 1851 ~ The Playel piano factory in Paris was destroyed by fire.  Playel was the favorite of Chopin in the 19th century, and it was identified with French composers known as the impressionist musicians of the early 20th century — like Ravel and Debussy.

Pleyel was founded in 1807 by Ignaz Pleyel, a composer and music publisher who studied with Franz Joseph Haydn.

. 1867 ~ Arturo Toscanini, Italian conductor and musical director. Famed for his temper in rehearsals, he was director of La Scala and the Metropolitan opera houses. He also conducted the NBC symphony orchestra. With a career spanned 68 years, he was a cellist at age 19
Read quotes by and about Toscanini
More information on Toscanini

. 1881 ~ Béla Bartók, Hungarian composer and pianist, born. His knowledge of western musical techniques allied to the inspiration he derived from Hungarian peasant songs enabled him to become a unique musical force.
More information about Bartók

. 1903 ~ Grammy winner Frankie Carle (Carlone), Pianist and bandleader
More about Carle

. 1913 ~ The Palace Theatre opened its doors in New York City. Ed Wynn was first on the vaudeville bill. Some 20 years later, Wynn would be named as radio’s top entertainer. He later became popular on television, as well.

. 1918 ~ Claude Debussy, French composer, died. His music, described as “musical Impressionism”, explored original avenues of expression.

. 1931 ~ Hal Kemp and his orchestra recorded Whistles, with Skinnay Ennis, for Brunswick Records. Both Kemp and Ennis sang in the Dorsey Brothers Concert Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Eugene Ormandy (later, conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra). The pair were part of the orchestra vocal quartet that also featured Nye Mayhew and Saxey Dowell in 1928.

. 1934 ~ Johnny Burnette, ‘The Master’, singer, brother of singer Dorsey Burnette

. 1938 ~ Hoyt Axton, Singer, musician and songwriter. Axton’s mother, Mae Boren Axton, wrote Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel

. 1940 ~ Anita Bryant, Singer

. 1942 ~ Aretha Franklin, American soul singer, known as the “Queen of Soul” and “Lady Soul”, she won 15 Grammy Awards and was the first woman inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)

. 1947 ~ Elton John (Reginald Kenneth Dwight), Entertainer
More information about John

. 1948 ~ Kelly Garrett, Actress, singer

. 1949 ~ Neil Jones, Musician with Amen Corner

. 1951 ~ Maizie Williams, Singer with Boney M

. 1966 ~ Jeff Healey, Guitarist, singer, songwriter with the Jeff Healey Band, CBC radio show: My Kind of Jazz

. 1971 ~ Tom Jones went gold with his single, She’s a Lady.

. 1972 ~ The group, America, rode to the top of the pop music charts with their LP, America, and the single (included on the LP), A Horse with No Name. A Horse With No Name would be the group’s only gold record.

March 18 ~ This Day in Music History

today

. 1842 ~ Stephane Mallarme, French Symbolist poet, born. His “L’Apres-midi d’un Faune” inspired composer Claude Debussy to write an orchestral prelude of the same name.

. 1844 ~ Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian composer
More information about Rimsky-Korsakov

. 1882 ~ Gian Francesco Malipiero, Italian composer and musicologist

. 1902 ~ Enrico Caruso recorded 10 arias for the Gramophone Company. The recording session took place in Milan, Italy and Caruso walked away with $500 for his effort.

. 1910 ~ Hold on to your hats! The opera, Pipe of Desire, was first performed this day at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Frederick Sheperd Converse wrote the work that turned out to be the first opera by an American composer to be performed at the Met.

. 1940 ~ Glen Gray and his orchestra recorded No Name Jive on Decca Records.

. 1941 ~ Wilson Pickett, American soul singer and songwriter; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

. 1959 ~ Irene Cara, Singer and actress

. 1963 ~ Vanessa Williams, Singer and actress

. 1967 ~ The day The Beatles, Penny Lane went gold

. 1970 ~ Brook Benton received a gold record for the hit single, Rainy Night in Georgia. It was Benton’s first hit since 1963’s Hotel Happiness.

. 1978 ~ The Bee Gees started an eight-week stay at the top of the pop music charts with Night Fever from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

. 2001 ~ John Phillips died at the age of 65. He was the singer-songwriter who founded the 1960s pop act the Mamas the Papas.